Authors: Amanda Heartley
Tags: #New adult romance, #Coming of age, #Contemporary romance
Published by Heartley Publishing
© 2016 Amanda Heartley
Copyright and Disclaimer
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination and have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 Amanda Heartley
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of the trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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“What, you got a hot date or something?”
I looked up from my cigarette, wincing at the smoke curling between my eyes until it cleared and I could focus on April’s face instead. Rather than answer, I merely arched one perfect eyebrow until she eventually explained the question instead. “You keep looking at the clock on your phone. You never do that. Ever, so… what’s up?”
I shrugged casually, as if the day, date, and time hadn’t been weighing on my mind for weeks. “I just don’t want to be late for my stepbrother’s ‘Welcome Home’ party.”
April scrunched her face, apparently as unexcited about the party as I was, though not quite as concerned. “That’s
?” she asked, no doubt as tired of hearing about it for the last two weeks as I was ranting about it every time we took one of our clandestine smoke breaks out behind the Fine Arts building after our classes were over for the day.
April Malone was everything I wasn’t: petite, curvy, brave, sexy and a legit tomboy, badass heartbreaker. Though I might have tried to play the part with my dragon tattoo and pack of generic gas station cigarettes tucked away in my backpack purse dotted with Sex Pistols and British flag buttons—I wasn’t the real thing, but somehow, we both knew I never would be.
For one, I only puffed on the cigarettes for something to do with my internal rage and lackluster bad girl image. I never actually inhaled them or really ever smoked them when no one else was around. Not only were they an expensive habit but… smoking? Gross. Why bother if no one was around to establish my street cred?
And that dragon tattoo? Pretty as it was, a snaking winged beast of red and green ink that cost me close to a grand in three painstaking installments, it was hidden away beneath my torn and tattered black jeans, the tail beginning just above my left knee, the body crawling up my left thigh and the head, plus twisting tongue, popping up above the spaghetti strap of my favorite black thong to tickle provocatively at my belly button. (Too bad it had been months since any guy actually saw it! And a while since I’d slept with a guy who was sober enough to remember it the next morning!)
But April? She had it all out there for the world to see: the spiky black hair with the neon green stripe down one side, the rich black mascara, the maroon lip gloss and the curling smoke, ever present above her menacing scowl and perpetually flared nostrils.
“Skip it,” she said, scowling even now as she lit her second cigarette with her first, like some grizzled cop in an old black and white stakeout movie. We’d just gotten out of our afternoon Modern Lit class and were leaning against the back of the Fine Arts building, as we did every Monday, Wednesday and Friday after classes were out for the day. It was a pretty easy schedule, three classes, three days a week, but the highlight was still smoking with April after they were all over.
Usually we’d drag on a few smokes until we got bored, then use one of our fake IDs at the local Stop ‘N’ go to grab a six pack or two before heading over to April’s apartment off campus to drink them dry. We might order a pizza afterward and take a swim in her pool, or just binge watch Cannibal Zombie Academy on her couch.
But not today.
“I can’t do that,” I insisted, sorely tempted to skip it all the same and just drink beer with April all afternoon, come hell or high water. But secretly, with certainty, I knew I’d never do that. I was already on thin ice with my new stepfather as it was. Skipping his son’s triumphant return home from Afghanistan, where he’d just completed three grueling tours of duty as a United States Marine, might just derail our relationship before it ever got started.
“I have to go,” I grumbled, as if maybe to myself. “My mom’s been planning it for weeks. You know how sensitive she is about appearances, especially where her new millionaire husband is concerned. Anything that might piss my stepfather off makes her freak out. He’ll be ticked off good and proper if I duck out at the last minute.”
April exhaled another cloud of acrid smoke while rolling her eyes. “This is the same Mom who moved you all the way from sunny Miami to Chestnut, Tennessee, just to chase some man?”
I cringed at her summary of the events of the last five months of my life, but couldn’t dispute them all the same. That’s pretty much
what my mom had done, which might explain why I wasn’t too eager to meet her husband’s son anytime soon – especially not if he was anything like his indifferent, overbearing, father.
“Yes,” I groaned, feeling somewhat guilty for giving April only my version of the events that had brought me to Chestnut, Tennessee and the big, sprawling house on Maple Lane. In my heart I knew Mom really loved Jerry Johnson, her new husband, but that didn’t stop me from resenting how my life had changed – damn near overnight – as a result. “But in her defense, she really loves my stepfather, and she wants us all to get along as one big happy family, so I should probably be there to welcome my stepbrother home from Afghanistan.”
“Shit, for real?” April asked, perking up.
I nodded, almost as impressed as she was. “Three tours of duty as a Marine,” I explained, almost… proudly, as if I was already brimming with family loyalty. “But now he’s out and coming home, so I guess I’ll have to make sure I wear a towel after the shower from now on, huh?”
April snorted gleefully, lighting a third cigarette with her second as I lingered on my first, holding it but not doing much about smoking. “You never know,” she teased, leaning in close so that I could smell her patchouli over the cigarette smoke. “He might be a real hottie you’d want to see you naked, you know?”
“Please,” I snorted back, puffing on my coffin nail for effect. “With my luck he’ll be one of those clean cut, by-the-book Marines they
write about in romance novels.”
“Or,” April teased, waving her cigarette around for emphasis. “He could be one of those tough, alpha, chiseled, long, lean, tattooed bad ass Marines you see in online porn. Now that’s worth rushing home to every day after school,
I blushed, none too eager to admit that had been my first thought – quickly dismissed for the ultimate
factor of screwing someone you’re related to, no matter what he looked like. “Even if he is,” I sighed, tamping out my half-finished cigarette on the brick wall at my back before dropping it at my feet. “What good would it do?”
“All kinds of good,” April chuckled, doing the same with her third cigarette as we started the long, snaking walk to the student parking lot across the small but tidy campus of Chestnut Community College. I could never figure out how she could smoke so much in such a short time. I could barely cough out one as fast as she smoked two—and sometimes three! “Weren’t you just complaining that you hadn’t been to bed with anybody since you moved here? Well, this could be your chance to sleep with a hot, sexy Marine… and you wouldn’t even have to leave your own house to do it!”